The Kerouac Project


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Alumni Update: Charles Fishman, Winter 2001 – 02

From time to time, different Kerouac House alumni will write in and tell us what they’ve been up to, or how their residency helped prepare them for the writing life. This month, we hear from Winter 2001–02 resident Charles Fishman. He sent us a copy of the poem he wrote during his residency nearly 20 years ago. It most recently appeared in his 2012 collection, In the Path of Lightning: Selected Poems (Time Being Books).

With Jack In Egypt

Jack Kerouac House, Orlando, 2002

Charles Fishman, writer-in-residence, Winter 2002–02
Charles Fishman, writer-in-residence, Winter 2002–02

Suddenly, I’m feeling old even ancient
Sitting in Jack’s house, I listen for the tapping
of his fingers on the 1937 Underwood
as he pops another benny and breaks into song
into that jazz cantata he beat from the drum of memory
from the pulse and passions of friends from the dream
of connection

It’s certain that the gods of writing visited Jack here
that his spirit lives here still under the old scuffed floor
between the rusting coils of the vintage electric stove
behind the half-detached headboard of Jack’s old bed
and in the huge dynastic oak that spreads astonishing wings
over each limb of this small gray house

I think of Jack tapping so rapidly on those 46 keys
calling back with each bhikku word
his days with the lunatic greats of New York City
San Francisco Mexicali L.A. his backwoods
North Carolina home his burials and disinterments,
those cold jolting slides along California’s astral coast
and the dark midnight freights that held his soul captive

And then in a downpour of icy January rain
I hear Jack tapping grace-notes onto the scrolling page:
his white-magic tantric spells and blitzing ecstasies
his prayers for release from the dark ’50s furies of America,
as if he were a spirit who could not find his Egypt

And, suddenly, I remember our South Bronx walk-up
earlier still than Jack’s rise to fame and the wide asphalt street
of my boyhood lined with leafy trees light burning down
through curling branches a soft blue flame and the cool hardness
of steps that led back into the building

And I see my father in his dark wool shirt and baggy khakis
his black hair already whitening, his strong fingers tapping
the cigarette case in his pocket and my mother leaning back
in the sanctum of her kitchen taking a few quick puffs
and letting memory play {stanza break}

I remember the Philco radio that moaned all day and chanted
into the evening its green and amber dials glowing,
how the black-crowned night-heron sky rose with a mystic fire
that threw bright sparks of history into each room and how,
after bedtime, the closet door loomed like an unextinguished
hearth like the sealed gate of a king’s crypt in Egypt

I remember how the night carried me beyond the city lights
into a desert garden where I walked slowly — a prince
in flowing robes — or sat, cross-legged, in the cotton shroud
of a prophet and, once, how I was set down so gently
amid ten thousand splendors wearing the heavy mask
of a young pharaoh doomed like Jack to die, to lie down golden
but far too early in the Blue Nile sleep of eternity

And now, at last, I recall how I woke to the sounds of a new epoch
to the rich perfumes of life to a wild sunlit music
to ghost feluccas sailing, with Jack in Egypt: our fingers grasping
for the last loose sheaves of papyrus floating past
and pulling pure pearl light from the moon

— Charles Fishman